The Pirates are interested in free-agent right-hander Justin Masterson, reports Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (via Twitter). The former Indians/Red Sox hurler is likely seeking a one-year deal to reestablish his value, Sawchik adds.
Masterson, 30, pitched just 59 1/3 innings with the Red Sox in 2015, marking his second consecutive season that was largely derailed due to injury. Masterson battled knee injuries for much of the 2014 campaign and struggled to a 5.88 ERA that year, and this past season, a shoulder injury hampered him. Masterson would eventually undergo arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder in September, though a recent update on his health status indicated that he’d be ready to go come Spring Training.
Prior to this recent rash of injuries. Masterson delivered brilliant performances in both 2011 and 2013. In both seasons, he logged an ERA south of 3.50 and was among the league leaders in terms of ground-ball rate. Of course, Masterson sandwiched a dreadful 4.93 ERA in between those two strong campaigns, but most believed that he’d have been in line for a very lucrative free-agent contract following the 2014 season had he been able to approximate his 2011/2013 results that season.
Though he hasn’t been healthy for two years, Masterson was looked at as a durable arm prior to that stretch, averaging 199 innings per year from 2010-13. And, while he’s only had two seasons in which he’s posted strong strikeout rates (8.7 K/9 from 2013-14), his nearly side-arm delivery and heavy sinker usage help him generate an exceptional amount of ground-balls when healthy (career 56.3 percent ground-ball rate).
The Pirates, who are among the most aggressive teams in the league in terms of infield shifting, tend to gravitate toward ground-ball pitchers and have developed a reputation for successfully rehabilitating pitchers with diminished value (e.g. Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett, Edinson Volquez, Mark Melancon, Vance Worley). While Pittsburgh has a knack for finding fixable talent, some of that strategy is also borne out of necessity, as the Pirates lack the financial firepower to play at the top of the market — or, realistically, even in the middle tiers of the market — for free agents. All of those factors would seem to align to make Masterson a very reasonable target for the Pirates, although there are certainly other “reclamation projects” in which Pittsburgh could look to invest. Doug Fister and Mat Latos stand out as two names coming off poor seasons that could look to rebuild value on a one-year deal, and a more veteran option in the same boat would be right-hander Kyle Lohse.